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August 28, 2016

Recycling Our Mothers’ Parties. And their Recipes. And their Stuff.

I love social media. I love seeing pictures of people’s dogs and cats, I love knowing what they ate for breakfast, and I would love to see your new haircut. “But who wants to know what some random friend from college is doing? Who cares that they just refinished their deck?” ME! I DO! I love seeing that the guy we all thought was nuts ended up married with a couple of adorable kids, a kitten, and a refinished deck. I’m from South Carolina, but I went to college in Canada and boarding school in Massachusetts. I know only the happiest things about people I would never have heard from again. I LOVE that you post your best things on Facebook, and I’m not mad that you don’t tweet the last fight you had with your partner. It makes me feel good to see everyone’s favorite things on social media. So keep on trucking!

But you know what I don’t love? That social media has made it super hard to have a small party without hurting someone’s feelings. Back in the day, my mom was in a bridge club. A bridge party requires eight players, and no more. And you can’t play with fewer than eight, so you have to have alternates. Bridge is serious, so if the alternates aren’t needed, they can’t be there because they’d be a distraction. That’s right: They were sort of invited, but not. And no one got their feelings hurt. The alternates had their own bridge clubs anyway, with their own alternates.

On any given night, I could name 30 people I’d love to see, but I can’t cook for 30 and still get to talk to everyone. In the age of social media, it’s hard to have an intimate dinner party if you really like a lot of people. But recently, one of my friends decided to make it happen. Well, a group of us actually, 14 to be exact. And we’re recycling parties from days gone by.

We started with the idea of a supper club, but we wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t be potluck. Don’t get me wrong: I love a potluck, especially when it’s micro-managed by me. But every now and then it’s fun to be the host. We decided on 14 members because while it wouldn’t be easy to cook for 14, all of us could manage. And more often than not, all 14 women won’t be able to make it. (Yes, women. We decided to leave our partners and dates out of it, because we want this thing to go on for years, and who knows how long they’ll be around?) Most of the time, we’ll be hosting 8 or 10, totally manageable.

And we decided on Sunday afternoon. Weeknights are too hectic, Sunday night might mean a hangover on Monday morning, and since most of us work Monday through Friday, a Sunday party gives the host a solid Saturday of prep time. Every host chooses her own theme. Our first Sunday Funday was a crêpe party (divine), and our second was a catered luncheon followed by gymnastics (I missed that one, but one lady has the swollen ankle and boot as proof that it was super fun). I was the third host, and I decided to do a tea, complete with an Earl Grey based punch. Also, vichyssoise, which necessitated cream soup bowls. I had four, and was luckily able to borrow another four from a friend* (who had inherited them from her grandmother, and never quite had occasion to use them, because who the hell uses cream soup bowls).


By my sweet friend Alicia Barnes, because my phone wasn’t charged and she’s always prepared!

I did what my mother would have done: I used pretty dishes and linens (mostly hers), and chose my menu based on what was easy and would taste good, not what would impress my guests. If you look in your grandmother’s social diary, you might find this menu:

  • Vichyssoise. The secret? Potato flakes. You can keep your fancy Yukon Golds. Potato flakes are the only way to go for a smooth vichyssoise.
  • The aforementioned punch. So easy; just dump it all in a bowl, but do make an ice ring with bits of all the ingredients the night before, because ice rings matter.
  • Deviled eggs. Because protein. And deliciousness.
  • Homemade Chex Mix. Because did you know you could do this in the slow cooker? So easy! A bit of advice: Use high quality margarine instead of butter and vegan Worcestershire instead of Lea and Perrins so your vegan friends can enjoy.
  • Tea sandwiches galore. I made five different kinds, making sure to provide something my vegan and fish-allergic guests could eat. We had egg salad with radish and arugula, cucumber and kale pesto spread with prosciutto, pimiento cheese, smoked trout spread and water cress, and radish, pickled cucumber and mâché with veganaise.

I added a self serve sandwich bar (because that punch was potent and we also had Bellinis), which included lox and bagels, or tomatoes on Sunbeam bread with Duke’s mayo (or veganaise), with or without bacon.2

And for dessert? Bowls of Whoppers (the candy, not the burgers), because that’s what my mom always got for bridge club, and little sandwiches made from lemon wafers and coconut milk ice cream. And it was fun.

There was a picture or two on social media, and I’m writing about it now, but I hope no one will get their feelings hurt. I love all of you, but I can only feed so many people at once. I get FOMO (fear of missing out) and I get it, but honestly? If people get together without you and put it on social media, they probably just couldn’t reach you, or had to limit the guest list and owed some other people invitations. If they really wanted to leave you out, they’d be more hush hush about it, right? And if you can internalize that, you’ll enjoy seeing your friends’ parties on social media (usually) even if you weren’t there.

By the way, let’s say your mother didn’t die (lucky) and leave you pretty dishes, or your friend doesn’t happen to have four cream soup bowls with handles and saucers to complement your own: Goodwill is your friend. In fact, the week of my party, another dear friend** learned I was serving cold soup and found me a gorgeous tureen, with a ladle, lid, and saucer, at her church garage sale. Nobody has these parties anymore, y’all: The pretty stuff is out there, and Goodwill should be your first stop. You can buy it all for a great price and lend it to your friends when they need it.

Do you recycle party ideas? And what older things do you love to use when you’re trying to make it nice?


* Shout out to Margaret H. M.!

** Shout out to Bea D.!